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Marathon Tragedy and Aftermath Tests University Community

BC community leans on faith, and one another, to deal with horror, aftermath of marathon bombings

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Boston College held a Mass of Hope and Healing in St. Ignatius Church the day after the Boston Marathon bombings. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

By Sean Smith | Chronicle Editor

Published: Apr. 25, 2013

The Boston College community this week sought to return to familiar work and study routines following one of the most tumultuous periods in recent memory.

Last Friday, even as BC — along with all of Boston — continued to cope with the aftermath of the Boston Marathon bombings on Patriot’s Day, an intense manhunt for the surviving one of two suspects involved in the heinous act of terrorism necessitated a lockdown of the city and adjacent communities. The University sent out an emergency notification early that morning cancelling classes, while most BC employees remained home and students stayed in their residence halls until Massachusetts Governor Deval Patrick lifted the “shelter-in-place” order that evening.

BC administrators said the events of last week required Boston College to be a community of faith and fellowship, as well as a place of learning and scholarship — and the University met the challenge.

University President William P. Leahy, SJ, in a letter published Monday, thanked the BC community “for its generosity, cooperation, and example as we and Greater Boston dealt with such unusual circumstances.”

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A photo taken on Marathon Monday by Boston College freshman Sarah McNamara. (Photo by BC Instagram)

Fr. Leahy and other administrators praised BC police officers and staff from Dining Services, Facilities Management and Health Services who stayed on after their overnight shifts ended because the shelter-in-place order prevented them from leaving and many of their replacement workers from coming to campus. Many who did make it in worked overnight on Friday until the campus returned to a normal schedule on Saturday.

Administrators also cited the work of the Emergency Management Team — whose membership comprises several offices and departments — for keeping the University community informed of developments on Friday and resolving several logistical problems related to the lockdown. A highlight of their efforts was arranging meals for some 7,400 students on campus: Through the work of Residential Life staff, students were directed to the dining facility nearest them and given food by a skeleton Dining Services staff to carry back to their rooms.

“The cooperation of our students was greatly appreciated by everyone at BC,” said University Spokesman Jack Dunn. “The plan would not have worked as smoothly without their assistance and cooperation.”

Athletic Director Brad Bates announced on Friday the cancellation of the annual Jay McGillis Spring Football Game scheduled for the next day, out of respect for bombing victims and their families and not wishing to overburden the BC Police, Dining and Facilities staffs.

The days preceding Friday found the BC community sharing in the widespread grief, horror, sorrow and bewilderment over the Boston Marathon bombings. Many at BC felt connected, directly or indirectly, to the tragic event: Some 300 undergraduates ran in this year’s marathon, many of behalf of the Campus School; other members of the University community also participated, or had a family member or friend who had entered the race; and still others at BC were spectators near the finish line where the explosions occurred.

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A student at last week’s Mass for Hope and Healing. (Photo by Lee Pellegrini)

BC in particular focused its concern and prayers for graduate students Liza Cherney and Brittany Loring, as well as Lynch School of Education graduate Patrick Downes ’05 and his wife Jessica, all of whom were hospitalized from injuries sustained in the bombing.

The story of the Downeses, in fact, became an international phenomenon after some of their friends launched a fundraising effort via GiveForward.com to help pay the couple’s medical bills and other costs. Although the couple’s families did not give media interviews and requested respect for their privacy, their plight — and the fundraising on their behalf — was widely reported in newspapers, TV and throughout the Internet. [As of Tuesday, “Help for Patrick and Jess” had solicited 11,367 donations.]

Similar efforts have been launched for Loring and Cherney. A fundraising website gave a progress report that earlier this week Loring walked with a walker, and had received visits from Rob Gronkowski and Stevan Ridley of the New England Patriots, and Dustin Pedroia, Jarrod Saltalamacchia and John Farrell of the Boston Red Sox. An update for Cherney yesterday reported she had undergone her final surgery, which had gone “really well.”

BC outreach also extended beyond the University community. BCPD officers and students in the Eagle EMS program attended yesterday’s memorial service for slain MIT officer Sean Collier. The Boston College Irish Dance student club volunteered to perform at a benefit this Saturday for Jane Richard, whose eight-year-old brother Martin was killed in the bombing; Jane, who lost her leg in the blast, is a student in the Clifden Academy of Irish Dance in Milton.

A Mass of Hope and Healing held in St. Ignatius Church the day following the marathon offered the BC community an opportunity to gather and offer prayers for the victims and all others affected by the bombings. The church, which the previous day had been a temporary sanctuary for stranded marathon runners, filled quickly to capacity with BC students — several wearing this year’s blue-and-yellow Boston Marathon windbreakers — faculty, administrators and staff as well as St. Ignatius parishioners.

Fr. Leahy, who celebrated the Mass, urged those in attendance to draw on “a reservoir of care and good will, that will sustain us as a community.

“We come with certain hurts and a sense of confusion: Why do these things happen? How can we carry on?” he continued. “It is this very community of faith that engages us and provides us support. Tap into that reservoir of goodness around us; there is no need to be alone.”

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Marquette University students gathered to show their support for Boston College by running five miles — the distance from BC to the Boston Marathon finish line. (Photo contributed to Boston College Facebook)

The Mass proved a healing tonic for four BC seniors who had come close to being victims themselves: Kara Mackintire, who was among the entrants in the marathon, and her friends Tommy Belton, Morgan Hiler and Caitlin Walsh, who accompanied her for the last five miles of the race.

They had crossed the finish line at about 2:45 p.m., only minutes before the twin blasts. What had been a glorious day — an opportunity to experience the marathon one last time together as BC students — dissolved into a rush for safety at Boston Common, followed by a numb trek back to campus and an anxious — but ultimately reassuring — search for news of other friends who had been at the marathon.

Outside St. Ignatius following the Mass, the four reflected on the events, and shifting emotions, of the past 24 hours.
“It was so scary for the first several hours, not being sure if someone you know might be injured, or worse,” said Belton. “We found out later on that everyone we knew was safe. But it was important to come here today, to find comfort together.”

“I was really impressed by how many people showed up for the Mass,” said Hiler. “It made me feel how lucky and blessed we are to be at BC.”

“We’ve replayed those moments in our heads, and how everything could have been so different if we had been a few minutes later,” said Mackintire. “Today, I felt thankful for the BC community, and that we could be together to thank God.”

Social media also provided evidence of the generosity of spirit and fellowship at BC in the wake of the tragedy. One student’s Facebook posting expressed appreciation for a “senior girl in Ignacio” who had provided help in a time of anxiety over missing friends: “I have no idea who you are but you took the time to talk to me and give me a hug to comfort me.”

“To come over to console a freshman crying during the tragedy at the Marathon was purely amazing,” read another Facebook post. “It meant so much to me that complete strangers would be willing to do that and not only make sure I was okay, but sit with me for a while until I truly felt better. I can’t thank you enough for your kindness and for giving me a reason to believe in humanity when all my faith had been lost.”

More than 800,000 people were reached by the BC Facebook page alone.

One Boston College story from Marathon Monday had a happy, if incomplete, ending.

David Evans, a resident of Maidstone, England, and a civilian investigator for the Surrey Police Department, entered the Boston Marathon to raise funds for Meningitis Trust. He had reached the top of Heartbreak Hill when officials halted the race, and was directed to St. Ignatius.

Evans and the other runners were met by Eagle EMS volunteers, who provided bagels, fruits and drinks, cooked pasta and gave medical treatment to Evans and other participants who had begun cramping up.

“They were awesome,” said Evans in an e-mail sent to a BC office.

At one point, Evans said, a female student wearing “a black top and white blouse” lent him her cellphone so he could call his girlfriend and let her know he was safe.

Although he thanked the student, Evans said, “I really don’t think she will ever fully understand how important that 30-second call was.”

More to the point, Evans said he would like to pay for the call he made.

“I knew nothing about BC before the marathon,” said Evans, who arrived back home safely. “As they say, first impressions count, and you guys and girls made a fantastic impression on me.”

—Office of News & Public Affairs staff contributed to this story.